Timber Plate Shells as a Roof Construction System

2015 - 2023 | Research Projects
State Postgraduate Scholarship Programme Baden Württemberg

Abel Groenewolt

Timber Plate Shells as a Roof Construction System

Design and Fabrication of Trivalent Polyhedral Roof Structures for Applications in the Existing Building Stock

This doctoral research investigates the applicability of timber plate shells as a construction system for roof structures of buildings, departing from an architectural perspective and focusing on vertical densification projects.

As a light-weight timber construction system, timber plate shells do not just expand the architectural vocabulary, they can also contribute to a more sustainable way of building. However, timber plate shells have only been used in very few constructed examples, of which most are pavilions or demonstrator buildings. Therefore, the aim of the dissertation is firstly to identify and resolve potential impediments to the design and construction of timber plate shells, and secondly to collect and disseminate information and insights that may contribute to a broader application of timber plate shells in the construction sector.

Various plate and joint types are discussed and two plate types with distinct joint types are selected for further investigation: solid cross laminated timber plates connected with crossing screws and hollow laminated veneer lumber components connected with finger joints and bolts. These two plate types are assessed on a wide range of criteria, including structural properties, weight, fabrication methods, material efficiency, environmental impact, air and moisture tightness, sound, thermal insulation, integration of air ducts, and costs. Both plate types turn out to be viable options for the construction of roof structures in vertical densification projects: hollow components for extremely lightweight structures, and solid plates for lightweight structures with higher fire resistance. The weight benefits are most pronounced at longer spans.

The study also discusses strategies that deal with various architectural design considerations, such as spatial typologies, connecting plate shells to existing structures, integrating ventilation channels, bringing in daylight and the connection between global design and segmentation patterns. Furthermore, design methods are analysed and a novel method to create trihedral segmentations of anticlastic surfaces is introduced.

Scientific Development

Abel Groenewolt

Supervisor and first examiner

Prof. Achim Menges, Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD)

Second examiner

Prof. Christopher Robeller, Hochschule Augsburg


State Postgraduate Scholarship Programme Baden Württemberg

Related Research

Wood R³ – Resource Effective, Regional, Robotically Fabricated


Related Publications:

Wagner, H. J., Groenewolt, A., Alvarez, M., Menges, A.: 2020, Towards Digital Automation Flexibility in Large-Scale Timber Construction: Integrative Robotic Prefabrication and Co-Design of the BUGA Wood Pavilion, Construction Robotics, Springer, 2020. (https://doi.org/10.1007/s41693-020-00038-5)

Alvarez, M., Wagner, H. J., Groenewolt, A., Krieg, O. D., Kyjanek, O., Aldinger, L., Bechert, S., Sonntag, D., Menges, A., Knippers, J.: 2019, The buga wood pavilion - Integrative interdisciplinary advancements of digital timber architecture. in ACADIA - Ubiquity and Autonomy [Proceedings of the ACADIA Conference 2019]. The University of Texas, Austin, pp. 490-499. (ISBN 978-0-578-59179-7)

Krieg, O., Bechert, S., Groenewolt, A., Horn, R., Knippers, J., Menges, A.: 2018, Affordances of Complexity: Evaluation of a Robotic Production Process for Segmented Timber Shell Structures. World Conference on Timber Engineering, Seoul

Horn, R., Groenewolt, A., Krieg, O., Gantner, J.: 2018, Ökobilanzierung von Lebensende-Optionen, Szenarien im bauphysikalischen Kontext am Beispiel segmentierter Holzschalenkonstruktionen. Bauphysik, 5/2018, Ernst & Sohn, Berlin.

Bechert, S., Groenewolt, A., Krieg, O., Menges, A., Knippers, J.: 2018, Structural Performance of Construction Systems for Segmented Timber Shell Structures, in Creativity in Structural Design [Proceedings of the IASS Conference 2018], Boston.

Groenewolt, A., Schwinn, T., Nguyen, L., Menges, A.: 2017, An interactive agent-based framework for materialization-informed architectural design. Swarm Intelligence, Volume 11, Special Issue on Self-Organised Construction, Springer. (DOI: 10.1007_s11721-017-0151-8)

Contact Information

This image shows Abel Groenewolt

Abel Groenewolt


Doctoral Candidate

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